According to one religious scholar Oprah Winfrey has crossed the line from celebrity to religious icon.

Kathryn Lofton, speaking at an annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (SSSR) said the popular talk-show host has “rituals,” which she placed within specific categories such as “reading, writing and buying.”

Lofton says that Winfrey has created a belief system that is based upon “self-indulgence and relaxed reflection,” reports the Salt Lake City Tribune.


This far-fetched analysis was apparently taken seriously amongst Lofton’s colleagues at their Salt Lake City conference.

However, members of the SSSR are less likely to accept any meaningful analysis about groups often called “cults.” In fact, they don’t like to use the “C” word. Instead, they prefer the “politically correct” label of “New Religious Movements” (“NRMs”).

It seems that many SSSR members have become little more than “cult apologists.”

SSSR member Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi appeared to express a minority opinion within the group when he lamented, “Leading scholars in the field decided to take a stand in the propaganda war over the legitimacy and reputation of certain NRMs and to work together with them in order to give them much needed public support.”

Beit-Hallahmi cited a memo made public that demonstrates such ongoing collaboration.

He also pointed out that prominent members of the SSSR such as David Bromley, Chairman of its Publication Committee and Eileen Barker have attended cult-subsidized conferences. Bromley has also been paid to testify in court on behalf of cults.

Other SSSR members have likewise offered themselves for hire as expert witnesses against claims of “brainwashing.”

The President Elect of the SSSR Rodney Stark, recipient of one of its “research awards,” has also received funding to attend “cult” conferences.

Gordon Melton, closely associated with the SSSR and linked through their website, once received an all expenses paid trip to Japan, courtesy of the infamous cult Aum.

Melton quickly concluded that the group was innocent of criminal wrongdoing and offered his analysis during press conferences in Japan, which was that Aum was likely the victim of discrimination and/or persecution.

However, it has since been proven through much physical evidence and court testimony, that Aum was responsible for the poison gas attack of Tokyo’s subways, which caused twelve deaths and sent thousands to the hospital. Many of Aum’s leaders are now in prison; some have been sentenced to death.

Perhaps Ms. Lofton should have looked to her own organization’s members as examples of “self-indulgence and relaxed reflection”?

Unlike the destructive cults some SSSR members have chosen to defend, Winfrey is a benign phenomenon, with a devoted following of fans. Oprah certainly hasn’t gassed anyone.


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